Ada Lovelace Day: Enid Mumford

I committed to writing a thing for Ada Lovelace Day, a day in which people are meant to blog about a woman they admire in the technology field, before realising I would be spending the day in Edinburgh, so this may be a little more brief than I would otherwise intend.

The woman I’m going to write about is Enid Mumford. She may seem an odd choice, as her degree and field of expertise was not primarily a technical one – she had a BA in social science, and worked in management for much of her career. However, she specialised in an area that is still horribly under-valued – sociotechnical studies. Her work was in the cultural and social impact of technology. Very early on – in the 1970s, especially with her work for DEC – she noticed that large-scale IT projects don’t ever actually achieve the things it’s claimed they will achieve, and identified the reasons why.

In almost all cases, big IT projects, in industry or government, are designed with little or no reference to the people who will be using them – they often create, rather than solve, problems. Mumford’s ETHICS (Effective Technical and Human Implementation of Computer-based Systems) method, based in cybernetic principles, was one of the first and most effective attempts at designing whole systems – ensuring that computer systems would be created to be part of a larger system, so they’d be an effective part of the workflow, so they’d actually solve a problem, and also ensuring that the people who worked with the computer systems wouldn’t be threatened by the new technology, because they would be involved in the design from the outset. Mumford’s methods, if used properly, would ensure that any computer systems introduced would actually be helpful to workers rather than being the expensive messes we see regularly from big IT consultants.

Mumford set these ideas out in a book, Designing Human Systems, which can be read for free here, along with a number of sequels which set out the use of these ideas in specific industries. Shortly before she died, my uncle (who worked with her) agreed to work with her to update the book to take into account modern programming and design techniques. Unfortunately, she then became ill, and the work was completed by my uncle Steve and Holly working on the main body of the text, and Steve and myself writing the new material on Agile Programming techniques. This book was published (credited to Enid, Steve and Holly) as Designing Human Systems: An Agile Approach To Ethics (NB I don’t make any money from sales of the book). Unfortunately, she died before I got to meet her, but working so closely with her text (doing endless redrafts of footnotes, proofreading and so on) gave me a very intimate knowledge of her ideas, and made me realise how important they are.

Mumford as a ‘social scientist’ had more influence on the development of computer systems over the last thirty years than almost any qualified programmers, but her name is not especially well known outside of specialised circles. In particular, she managed to show, quite conclusively, that employee happiness is actually essential to true efficiency. It’s a lesson that many, *many* IT projects would do well to learn from.

More Helpful Answers To Lost Searchers

Being the second in an occasional series for people who’ve got here looking for things I haven’t yet helped them with. Here are search terms that have arrived here in the last week, and my advice to them:

what film should i watch?
Doctor Strangelove. It’s very funny, and directed by Kubrick, and Peter Sellers is great in it. If you’re following the Bechdel rule, then I’d suggest Ghost World.

song that goes i am i am i am super man
MANY people have searched for this or something similar. The song you’re after is Superman, originally recorded by 60s band The Clique, but you’re probably after the cover version by REM from the album Lifes Rich Pageant.

“foskett first worked with brian wilson”
Jeff Foskett joined the touring Beach Boys in 1981, replacing Carl Wilson who had quit the band for a while at the time, so that will have been the first time he worked with Wilson. He remained with the band until 1990, and joined Brian Wilson’s touring band in 1999.

how wealthy is bruce wayne
Currently Bruce Wayne is stuck on prehistoric Earth with nothing but his wits to get by. When he gets back to our time, he will be one of the two or three wealthiest men in the world again.

batman after final crisis
The situation with Batman is currently up in the air, as about a thousand useless miniseries are coming out, but Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely will be doing a Batman And Robin series in May, which will presumably be the one you need to read if you want to follow the threads from Morrison’s Final Crisis.

will the real smile album ever be releas
I’m sorry to take it out on you, anonymous searcher, but I get sick of Beach Boys fans saying they want ‘the real Smile album’ to come out. What, exactly, do you want? The Beach Boys put out an album, Smiley Smile, based on that material, in 1967, and it was a great album. Then on the Good Vibrations box set in 1993 a compilation of Smile recordings that was about as long as a typical 60s album came out, and it was pretty good. Then in 2004 Brian Wilson released a finished, complete piece rerecording of the whole thing from start to finish, and it was an absolute masterpiece.
By my count that’s *three* ‘real smile albums’ that have come out – and any *one* of them can stand with the best music ever released. But that’s not good enough for you, is it? Your sense of entitlement is so huge you want to keep bothering a sick man to revisit one of the most painful periods of his life – a period he’s repeatedly stated he hates thinking about – and you’ll never, ever, let him move past that. No matter what the poor man does, it’ll never be good enough for you because you want an imaginary perfect album rather than anything that can ever exist in reality.
Well, fuck you. If your idea of fun is to pester people with severe mental illnesses and never let them get on with their lives, fuck you. If three fantastic albums aren’t good enough for you, fuck you, you selfish, whinging, entitled prick. I hope all your Sea Of Tunes and Vigotone and Project Smile CDs get burned in a fire and the only Beach Boys music you have left is a copy of Looking Back With Love.

word finishing in ence
Evidence. Hope that helps.

blue beetle theological implications
Well, I’m no theologian, but the only thing in Blue Beetle that appears to have any theological implications to me is the confirmation in one of the later issues that the DC Universe behaves according to an implicate order version of quantum mechanics, a la the theories of David Bohm. The implicate order interpretations, which assume an underlying order behind the apparent randomness in quantum behaviour, are much favoured by more mystical religious people, and there’s even a branch of study called quantum theology, which you might want to look into, though it looks like utter piffle to me.

guardian national salary leak
I presume you’re referring to this – the tax-scrounging scum Barclays taking taxpayers’ money and then using it to prevent the Grauniad reporting their tax avoidance. Don’t let the bastards get away with it. Link this from your own blog.

why didnt the beach boys release soulful
The released version of Soulful Old Man Sunshine is actually a composite of several takes that were never put together properly while the band were still together. The official reason it was never released was because Carl Wilson was unhappy with his vocal, especially when he slurs “shoulful old man shunshine”, but I suspect it’s just because no-one in the Beach Boys seems to have heard of the concept of ‘quality control’, with all their releases since about 1970 essentially being put together at random (“let’s not release Fourth Of July, but put Take A Load Off Your Feet on the album instead”, “No, let’s not put out Still I Dream Of It – Hey Little Tomboy is clearly the song to keep from these sessions”)

jack nitzsche lost that lovin feeling
Actually, that’s one of the few Spector records that Nitzsche didn’t work on. Gene Page arranged it, in an imitation of Nitzsche’s style.

which strips great outdoor fight book?
The Great Outdoor Fight starts here.

Nicola Bryant wank
Oh, go away.

99.873% of statistics are made up

Today I was involved in a Twitter argument with two Prominent Liberal Democrat Bloggers. I’ll leave their names and the precise details of the argument out, because it’s not germane (and also because I may inadvertantly misrepresent one of them in the very abbreviated precis that follows), although anyone who really wishes can look it up on Twitter. But the argument went something along the lines of:

Prominent Liberal Democrat Blogger 1: Sign this petition banning the distimming of doshes!
PLDB2 : But that says that studies show that distimming causes gostaks to go blind. In fact all the studies show it causes them to grow an extra foot!
PLDB1: That doesn’t matter! Just sign the damn petition! Distimming is wrong!
PLDB2: I’m not signing a petition with things in it that are demonstrably untrue!
PLDB1: But you can never be 100% accurate, so just sign the damn thing! Anyway, you can prove anything with statistics!
Me: Are you seriously saying that just because absolute inaccuracy is not possible, you shouldn’t make any effort to remove obvious falsehoods?
PLDB1: Don’t sidetrack the discussion! This is about distimming! Anyway, people will argue over anything, no matter what you do.

And then on, for many more 140-character responses, essentially going round in circles.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this attitude recently – a couple of weeks ago there was a storm in a teacup over a famous campaigning organisation running a campaign for an excellent cause, but with a headline figure that was not very accurate. I won’t link to anything about that (although most politically-minded people reading this will have a good idea what I’m talking about), because I don’t want to give ammunition to the kind of people who will use the inaccuracy against the cause itself.

But the thing is, I shouldn’t have to do that. I shouldn’t have to choose between telling the truth and discrediting a worthy campaign. Using misleading or outright wrong facts is the kind of thing we excoriate the Mail or Express about, and we shouldn’t be doing it ourselves. Were the Mail to headline “75% of people think immigrants should be hanged!” then we’d be all over the article, tearing it to shreds, but the same people would be silent if they saw something saying “75% say ID cards are wrong”.

Citations of studies and statistics can be very useful, as can using raw numbers. Amnesty are currently campaigning to stop 128 executions in Iraq., for example, and that’s an important campaign. But it stands or falls on the 128 number, so they’ve ensured they’ve got it right. If it turned out there were only five people being executed, and the other 123 were being given free chocolate instead, Amnesty would quite rightly argue that the death penalty is still wrong, and that any executions are too many. But they would look idiotic. (Sadly, this is not a case where the numbers are wrong…)

We need, as ‘progressives’ (whatever that very devalued word still means) to be at least as strict with ourselves as we are with the other side. In particular, we need to acknowledge unpleasant evidence. We can’t say, for example “Cannabis should be legal, as it’s harmless” – it’s clearly *not* harmless, as the many people suffering from cannabis psychosis would attest. But we *can* say “Cannabis should be legal, *even though it can cause harm*, as the harm it causes is less than the harm caused by denying adults the right to do as they wish with their own brains”. Saying “the minimum wage doesn’t have any negative effect on jobs” is wrong – the minimum wage clearly prevents the creation of some small number of very low-paid jobs. But saying “the overall positive effect of the minimum wage – which prevents workers from living on starvation-level incomes – more than offsets its small negative effect” is truthful.

If our arguments are right, we don’t need spurious pseudo-evidence to back them up, and if they’re wrong we shouldn’t be making those arguments in the first place. Using factoids, rather than facts, is one of the things that makes people think ‘they’re all the same’ – because sooner or later one of those factoids will contradict the listener’s personal experience, and s/he will write the source off as a liar.

We can’t get everything right, but it’s not difficult to find a reliable source for any statement of fact you make (if it can be done for Wikipedia it can be done for a political campaign or petition) and if you do find such a source, at least you can then say “It was in reliable newspaper X or peer-reviewed journal Y”, rather than imitating Reagan and saying “facts are stupid things”.

Yesterday’s playlist link

For some reason no matter what I do WordPress will not actually allow the posting of spotify links using a href= tags. So the link itself is spotify:user:stealthmunchkin:playlist:6s4DKxeEadvf5vCKZyCqNC .

In other ‘news’, having been fairly critical of Liberal Conspiracy the other day again, I have now sold out decided to change the system from the inside. I am now part of their netcasting team, and my first set of links will be up on receipt of the cash tomorrow.

This Week I Are Be Mostly Listening To…

This is the start proper of a new feature for this blog, where I’ll create a 50-song spotify playlist and share it along with my comments. This week’s one is quite simple – I just took the fifty songs I’ve played most this week according to last.fm , taking into account that I only want one song per artist and some bands aren’t on spotify.

(For those who don’t know, spotify is a free-as-in-beer app that allows you to listen to pretty much any song you want to, streamed on demand. They’ve got a few gaps in the collection, but you can see from the list below that they’ve got a pretty good range.

For GNU/Linux users like myself, there’s a BSD-licensed clone being created, but at the moment it’s still missing crucial functionality. I’ve downloaded it, of course, because I would rather use free software, but much as it pains me to say so *right now* I’d recommend using the Windows client under WINE. It works beautifully, and there’s a step-by-step guide on the site (it’s geared towards Debian, which is what I use, but it works under CentOS and Ubuntu as well that I know of).

Here’s the playlist itself, and below are my notes on each song.

EDIT for some reason WordPress won’t allow the spotify link properly – the link is spotify:user:stealthmunchkin:playlist:6s4DKxeEadvf5vCKZyCqNC – the link above now takes you to a page where you can click the link…

The Beach Boys – Been Way Too Long (a capella) Just a gorgeous little fragment from a rarities set.

Benny Goodman – Tiger Rag there is very little in the world that is better than Benny Goodman’s small group work. Goodman’s clarinet influenced my melodic sense more than any other performer ever, and Lionel Hampton on the vibraphone is heaven itself.

Candypants – Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky From Now On Lisa Jenio is one of the best songwriters working today. This isn’t one of her best, but I was being true to the ‘song I’ve listened to most this week’ thing. Listen to the full album this is from.

Love – Orange Skies (Live) This is Arthur Lee backed by Baby Lemonade and the Stockholm Strings and Horns. Lee’s UK tours were some of the best gigs it’s ever been my privilege to see.

David Bowie – Quicksand I know it’s an anthem for fascism, but the music’s so good…

Rufus Wainwright – Wonderful/Song For Children from the new War Child Heroes album, this is Wainwright covering the first half of the second movement of Smile, by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks. It’s a lovely version of what some days I think is the best song ever written.

The Flying Burrito Brothers – Wheels You all know this one, I hope?

David Seville – Witch Doctor I’m not proud.

Jake Thackray – Salvation Army Girl I’ve written about Jake before. This is one of his most gorgeous melodies.

Brian Wilson – Love And Mercy From his 1988 solo album. The production’s horribly dated now, and the vocals are all over the place, but the song’s one of the best. The simplistic lyrics actually add to the point – “The loneliness in this world, well it’s just not fair”. Quite.

The Zombies – Butcher’s Tale This is a live version of the Odessey And Oracle song – I believe the only song they ever did with someone (Chris White) other than Colin Blunstone singing lead. For those who don’t know it’s a song about WWI.

XTC – Another Satellite from Skylarking, one of the very best albums ever recorded, this is a song Andy Partridge wrote warning off the woman who later became his second wife.

The Monkees – Love Is Only Sleeping Those of you who only know the Monkees for their hit singles might be amazed by this bit of psych/country/funk.

The Turtles – You Know What I Mean Something about this song, weirdly, reminds me of Queen, even though it sounds nothing like them.

Bartok – Romanian polka One of the problems with this ‘only one track by each artist’ thing is that Bartok only gets 29 seconds…

Eric Dolphy – Hi-Fly Fourteen minutes of great jazz.

Elvis Presley – Shake, Rattle & Roll You may have heard of him.

Flo & Eddie – Nikki Hoi Very silly pseudo-Hawaiian song by the ex-Turtles

Squeeze – Some Fantastic Place One of the great funeral songs, especially for the My Sweet Lord style middle section.

Jimmie Rodgers – Mississippi Moon This is the yodelling country singer, the ‘singing brakeman’, not the similarly-named bluesman.

Scott Walker – Clara Listen to this thirteen minutes of atonal noise and abstract poetry, and remember that forty years before this, this man was a teen heartthrob having number ones with covers of Four Seasons songs.

Van Dyke Parks – The Four Mills Brothers First note – the song is a cover version of a calypso song from when ‘Negro’ was the polite term for black people. Second note – it’s really fun and great.

Little Richard – Ooh! My Soul! This is just about as pure an expression of Little RIchard as you can get – raw and screaming, but camp as hell. Little Richard is a horribly underrated performer, and the Specialty band were astonishing.

Doctor John – Storm Warning Just a nice little instrumental from an EP he did about hurricane Katrina.

Elvis Costello – Man Out Of Time Another one you probably know.

Jack Nitzsche – The Last Race A cool little surf-style instrumental.

Tim Buckley – I Had A Talk With My Woman Why everyone goes on about Jeff, I don’t know. His dad had the same voice, and was capable of great records like this – and made *eight* albums in less time than Jeff took to make one.

Billy Ward & The Dominoes – The Bells I suspect this song may not be entirely serious.

J.S. Bach – Prelude And Fugue No. 6 in D Minor

Kathryn Williams – Night Baking – The first of several songs on here from great kids’ music compilation Colours Are Brighter.

Link Wray – Genocide Slow, throbbing, guitar instrumentals are always good.

The Jam – Little Boy Soldiers Fire and skill.

The Flaming Lips – Big Ol’ Bug Is The New Baby Now Another one from Colours Are Brighter.

T-Rex – Rip Off This sounds several years ahead of its time, predating punk by several years, til the horns and strings come in.

Nilsson – Sister Marie I love Nilsson’s first couple of albums more than is healthy.

L.E.O. – Goodbye Innocence L.E.O are a ‘supergroup’ (members include Bleu, one of Hanson, one of the less-well-known members of Jellyfish and someone from the band Chicago. I think Parthenon Huxley may have been involved too) who made an album of ELO-soundalike songs. Astonishingly, it’s absolutely fantastic, rather than, as you would imagine, the worst thing in history.

Hasil Adkins – I’m Happy Hasil Adkins was a rockabilly one-man-band (apparently he didn’t realise that when records said ‘Hank Williams’ or ‘Elvis Presley’ there were other people on there too) whose songs were mostly about decapitation. This one is about being happy, and is essentially Orange Blossom Special.

Otis Redding – I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

The Carter Family – Keep On The Sunny Side The family that essentially invented country music. You may know this song from O Brother Where Art Thou? – this is the original.

Stew – The Drug Suite Three of the best songs about drugs ever. I Must Have Been High is gorgeous, but my favourite is probably I’m Not On A Drug.

Richard Thompson – Walking The Long Miles Home This is a studio version rather than the live version I have, but it’s still great.

Mighty Sparrow – Carlton Peeping At Me The king of calypso singing about a peeping tom.

The Ivor Cutler Trio – Mud Another one from Colours Are Brighter, this time the great whimsical poet, in one of his last recordings.

Bo Diddley – I’m A Man If you don’t already know this, you officially are not allowed to have any opinions on popular culture.

Spike Jones And His City Slickers – Chloe The man after whom Milligan named himself shows why.

The Fireman – Two Magpies “The Fireman” is actually an ‘experimental’ project by Paul McCartney and Youth. To be honest, it doesn’t sound very experimental at all, just a Paul McCartney album – certainly nothing like his Liverpool Sound Collage record or anything. That said, it’s much better than his last ‘real’ album.

The Kinks – Victoria The opening track of one of the few good ‘concept albums’ ever – Arthur.

Willie Dixon – Walkin’ The Blues A wonderful little laid-back piano thing from the great bassist and songwriter.

Michael Nesmith – Listen To The Band Nesmith remaking his own Monkees hit here, in a more uptempo honky-tonk style.

Sparks – Metaphor From their recent-ish Hello Young Lovers, an album where they experiment with repetition more than ever. And chicks *do* dig metaphors…

(EDIT – the original version of this was weirdly formatted. I hope this has fixed it.)

Linkblogging for 15/03/09

A few quick links here. Our home net access will be fixed tomorrow morning, so normal service will resume then…

Eddie Campbell has his daughter Hayley Campbell’s review of the film of Watchmen, along with a few comments of his own, especially on Dr Manhattan’s circumcision as it relates to Leonardo. Meanwhile Caleb has more on the message from David Hayter I wrote about the other day…

Civil servants can’t even be bothered to read emails from the public. And the same site also asks when we are going to impose regime change on Iraq.

Anton Vowel asks what the Daily Mail really thinks about racism.

I’ve been quite hard on ‘Liberal’ Conspiracy here at times (I think it’s a site with several wonderful writers but with a very strange overall editorial line, to put it mildly) but the briefing report on James Purnell’s DWP and their use of ‘lie detectors’ that has been being posted there and at Ministry of Truth is a great work of investigative journalism of the kind that we all could learn from. Here’s a link to part of it with links to more.

And Tim at the Hurting has a wonderful post on Rorshach.